Gayatri Sethi (Desi Book Aunty)
As the Pandemic persists, and we enter another phase of hibernation or social distancing, I have curated a list of books that offer comfort during wintry times. Whether we are braving a personal season of grief or enduring isolation during what is usually a season of festivity, these books potentially offer companionship and care. Some of these reads feel like a hot cup of chai or group hug while others feel like the embraces of kindred. One of them might even conjure up the 2020 vacation trip that is on hold.
Feels like a soothing cup of chai.
The Girl and the Goddess: Stories and Poems of Divine Wisdom by Nikita Gill (G.P. Putnam’s Sons: September 29, 2020)
It’s okay to feel
like you’re drowning
inside your own bones sometimes.
It’s okay to weep
like a sky devoured
By a storm…
We can earn together.
how to be gentle with ourselves.
how to be kinder to ourselves
When life feels
like it is more endings
This excerpt from one of the exquisite poems from this novel in verse by the immensely gifted poet, Nikita Gill, might offer an inkling as to why this is a comforting read. This breathtaking book has been a healing gift to me over the last few weeks. My ability to read for long durations has diminished as the months of physical distancing wear on. In these pages, I have found effortless reading that leads to meditative reflection. I am able to process my own family’s treacherous Partition-related intergenerational traumas through a tenderly crafted story that resonates for many of us. The stunning poetry is poignant, wise and uplifting even as some intense themes emerge. This magical book leaves me feeling soothed as if I sipped the perfect cup of chai on a blustery winter day.
Content warnings: bigotry, homophobia, misogyny/ sexism, violence, racism and Partition.
Feels like a group hug.
Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort During the Time of Covid-19 edited by Jennifer Haupt (Central Avenue Publishing: September 1, 2020)
As I pore over this thoughtfully curated anthology, I feel a deeper connection to myself and new ideas for fostering emotional connections with friends and family have emerged. Here. poetry, essays and reflections by over ninety authors evoke a sense of our shared human desires to connect despite our current Pandemic-induced isolation. There is much insight, wisdom and wit between these pages to reassure those of us feeling adrift. All profits from the sales of the book benefit booksellers in financial distress as a result of the pandemic.
Feels like a community gathering.
How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong (Hachette Go: June 2, 2020)
Every now and then, we come across books that move or transform how we think of ourselves and our place in the world. This book is definitely one of those rare treasures. I have sought refuge in the truths revealed by Mia Birdsong often as I grapple with the disconnectedness of daily life right now. I have found vision and actionable ideas for cultivating community (both virtual and face to face). I have even gifted numerous copies of this book throughout these last few months to folks struggling with loss or disconnection. This book is a profound offering by a visionary activist and gifted storyteller.
Feels like that 2020 vacation we never took.
In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean (A Cookbook) by Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen (Ten Speed Press: October 13, 2020)
I have often wished to see my kindred or travel across the Atlantic ocean to southern Africa where my own mother resides. This unique book, combining recipes and storytelling, has brought me as close to the lands of my birth and childhood as I can get without boarding a trans-Atlantic flight. This is not a conventional cookbook. Along with a collection of recipes and photographs we might not easily find elsewhere, it is also overflowing with grandmotherly stories, life advice, and geographical knowledge and travel joys. I have taken to trying out a couple of new recipes from this beloved treasure book every few weeks to defy Covid induced kitchen burnout. Over the holiday season, I shared a recipe for collard greens from the book with multiple friends. As we sent each other pictures of our finished meal, we imagined ourselves at a virtual potluck gathering or friends’ trip inspired by this heartwarming book.
Feels like a family fun day.
Labor of Loaf for the Young Baker by Pooja Makhijani (E-book available at poojamakhijani.com/laborofloaf)
My family and I have often needed something feel-good to enjoy together to defeat boredom. This e-book created by an immensely talented baker is a refreshing way to bake desi South Asian inspired holiday treats like Parle-G Cocoa brownies or Garam Masala Graham Crackers together as a family. This collection of recipes is a delightful resource for trying out innovative recipes while finessing new skills and giving to a worthy cause at the same time. A few folks who have tried the recipes have said these have become family favorites. Perhaps, a new winter family tradition will be inspired by these recipes? Every donation with the download of the book will benefit a community foodbank.
Dr. Gayatri Sethi is an educator, writer and consultant based in Atlanta. She teaches and writes about social justice, global studies and education. When she is not writing verses, homeschooling or recommending readings as Desi Book Aunty, she travels the globe with her teen-aged children and college students. Follow her on Instagram @desibookaunty for further reading recommendations and inspiration.